Friday morning, Wilton Speight stood tall in the back of Schembechler Hall as little more than an afterthought.
This day was about Rashan Gary, who held firm on his claim that he’s the best player in the draft. It was about Devin Bush, who reflected on freak-ish combine numbers and rising draft stock. It was about Chase Winovich, who bid adieu to Michigan and, he hopes, his reputation as “that try-hard white guy.” And yet, Speight’s cameo appearance was an inherent, incongruent end, once and for all.
It was an oddly befitting way for Speight to make his return to Michigan, culminating a career ultimately defined by persistent adversity. The quarterback enters the draft after three seasons at Michigan and one at UCLA, where he transferred for his final year of eligibility. Friday, returning to campus for Michigan’s Pro Day, Speight addressed his longest odds yet: the NFL Draft.
“I know it’s kind of going to be another uphill battle,” he said, candidly. “I know I’m not a super talked-about prospect in terms of the media and stuff.”
First, there was the manner of why Speight, who played his final season of college football at UCLA, was there in the first place. Early in the process, wide receiver Grant Perry and tight end Zach Gentry realized they wouldn’t have a quarterback to throw to them at Pro Day. They reached out to Speight, who was instantly receptive to the idea of coming back for the occasion.
“Nothing against anybody else, but it would’ve been a little different today probably if it had been a scout of a coach winging the ball around like Uncle Rico,” Gentry said. “It was good to have him back.”
Speight texted Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, who was in favor. Then he followed up a few weeks later and got the go-ahead.
“I’m pretty sure if I didn’t reach out to Harbaugh, he might have just thrown at Pro Day,” Speight said with a chuckle. “He’s very capable. And I’m sure he’d love to show everyone he’s still got it in the tank.”
The trip gave Speight a chance to venture down memory lane. He went back to his house during his time in Ann Arbor, “the lumber yard”. He saw friends and family in the area. He visited with coaches and teammates for whom he threw for 3,192 yards and 22 touchdowns, and won 13 games as a starter — doing so while cycling through four different playbooks, two transfer quarterbacks, multiple injuries and a whole lot of external doubt.
Still, his participation in Michigan’s Pro Day served a greater purpose than the whiff of nostalgia.
Speight, like everyone else in the room Friday, is doing all he can to earn an NFL job. At UCLA last year under Chip Kelly, in an offense he claims “that nobody really thought I could run,” he threw for 1,527 yards and six touchdowns in seven games. Speight notes his slimmed down figure — down 25 pounds from his time at Michigan — has contributed to increased athleticism; Friday, he ran a 4.79 40-yard dash, as clocked by at least one team.
“I’m clearly not just a big, white mule that just sits in the pocket,” he said. “I was able to showcase that this year in LA, running Chip Kelly’s offense — nobody thought I was going to be able to do that.”
He believes his versatility, athleticism and football acumen have put him in position to become an NFL quarterback, and he doesn’t much care if others are doubtful.
For Speight, skepticism is nothing new.
“I came in as a 3-star at Michigan, behind a 5-star kid. I was kind of expected just to hold a clipboard,” Speight said. “They brought in two transfers when I was sixth on the depth chart. I won that uphill battle. And went in and ran Chip Kelly’s offense, an offense that nobody really thought I could run. I won that battle. This is just another hill to climb. That’s the way I look at it at least.
“I’m sure some people might think I’m crazy. That’s when I’m doing the right thing, I guess.”